Reconciliation as a process, not a project

A former truth commissioner from Timor-Leste and the director of the Centro Nacional Chega! (CNC) – the follow-up body to the Timor-Leste truth commission (CAVR) – spoke in October 2019 at Bishop’s University and the University of Sherbrooke. A summary of their presentations at Bishop’s follows.

By Tomas Pelz

Father Jovito de Araujo, a former truth commissioner and now a member of the Centro Nacional Chega! board, spoke about the process of reconciliation and how it should be part of people’s lives, not simply a governmental process which is up and over. Reconciliation should be a dynamic process which is part of the daily life of the Timorese people. Without this relationship between reconciliation and people’s daily lives there will never be an end to the suffering of victims.

He also discussed how after the recommendations of 2004 nothing happened and that dynamic relationship he spoke about could not exist. That is why, he said, the CNC was formed in 2016 as a public institution aimed at implementing some of the recommendations made and creating that dynamic process which would be part of people’s lives. He acknowledged that many victims unfortunately pass without ever seeing true reconciliation.

Father Jovito also went into the expectations many held and realities of reconciliation in EasT Timor, saying that many Timorese held hope in politicians and important figures to transform their lives and bring about a bright future. This, he says, has not as yet happened, due to multiple factors but mainly because of East Timor’s dependence on Indonesia and the importance of that friendship over some aspects of reconciliation. He also stated that much of the temporary actions and policy implemented did not put an end to the nightmares of victims’ lives. Much has been pushed aside in the name of political interests.

He concluded his speech by saying that reconciliation in daily life is not easy but life is a relationship that needs to be rebuilt in East Timor.

Hugo Fernandes, director of the CNC, began his talk by saying that reconciliation is only one of the recommendations made by the truth commission. The CAVR looked at many things, like what happened within Timorese society itself. He continued by saying that yes, the main recommendation made by the commission was reconciliation but there are 202 other recommendations which deal with concepts and plans for reform to democratic systems, education, and others in order to make sure the same mistakes are not repeated.

He continued by discussing the failure and reasons behind those failures of reconciliation. With reconciliation as an aim, little has happened. Although there have been political changes, none of these changes in government or policy have taken the recommendations seriously for the most part and so progress has been slow or non-existent even if there is a hope or a will from the people to implement them. Hugo identified a lack of human resources to help the government interpret how they should or could realistically apply these ideas as one of the main reasons as to why so little has been done, as well as the fact that many Timorese who know of the past avoid talking about the truth because they end up talking about what bad things Indonesians have done onto them.It is hard for them to talk openly and frankly about the past. The conversation can be and often is very one sided, missing the Timorese voice.

History, he added, is written by the victors and Timorese history is dominated. This stems from a monopoly on truth but a lack of control over history by the Timorese. Because there are no Timorese history textbooks in schools. Hugo said the best time for young Timorese to learn about their history is during elections when a lot of truth in the past comes out in campaigns as well as on social media which he said many politicians use for their own political ends.

To end his talk Hugo talked of the work the CNC has done and continues to do, including training 1000 officers who at the beginning knew nothing of Timorese history, and the creation of a database of victims so that information about every victim is available which would help expand the care given to only military veterans to all who faced violence in the past. The creation of this database is a start to further assist victims.